NEW PLAYERS 3
NEW RULES HELP
BETTER THAN '03-04? NO
For the playoff-bound Canucks, the most intriguing question is, Whither Todd Bertuzzi?
This follows two years of withered Todd Bertuzzi. After blindsiding Avalanche rookie Steve Moore during a March 2004 game and breaking Moore's neck--a civil suit is pending--Bertuzzi was suspended by the NHL through the playoffs. But even before he pleaded guilty to criminal assault (he received one year's probation and 80 hours of community service) and spent 17 months in hockey exile, Bertuzzi had turned into a pale imitation of the blot-out-the-sun, 6'3" 245-pounder who was the dominant power forward of his time. His scoring had dropped dramatically, from 46 goals (25 of them on the power play) in 2002--03 to 17 (eight with a man advantage) in 2003--04. And his own penalties took Vancouver off a power play 20 times in '03--04.
There's no telling how effectively Bertuzzi will lug his personal baggage around the league. "I suspect he'll handle it well, but that's an unknown," says coach Marc Crawford. "I've been seeing a real strong focus, and I expect him to score at a high level. Very few players can do what Todd can in tight, with that combination of size and strength and sweet hands." If defensemen can't impede him with their sticks, and the 30-year-old Bertuzzi no longer feels compelled to push off (and take penalties) to create room around the crease, he could be an NHL monster in the best sense.
Certainly Bertuzzi will have a cocoon, reuniting with Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison on the league's most explosive line. Its prowess, however, can carry the Canucks only so far. That they have won only one playoff series in the past four postseasons is due, in part, to their inability to spread out the goals. New general manager David Nonis did tweak the secondary scoring options with the additions of speedy, veteran wingers Anson Carter and Richard Park.
"The guys on this team are the right age," says Crawford, whose 15 core players average 28.5. "They know this is their time." --M.F.
The mobile defensemen will disrupt opponents .... This is the year for Dan Cloutier to prove he's a Cup-caliber goalie.
• ALL CAPS denotes new player